Front Line: Awards time!
There are only a few weeks left in the fantasy hockey season. If you are in a head-to-head league, you are surely into the playoff schedule now. If you play rotisserie, you are likely playing the difficult endgame that requires you to squeeze out every last bit of production with some players having no more than five games remaining. Keep your nose to the grindstone. But this week's Front Line has a programming change as we wind down the season with a fantasy awards column and, next week, a ranking and look ahead to next season. Remember you can also check the Fantasy Forecaster on Friday's for relevant discussion to this season.
Now, it's time to hand out the hardware, all of which you'll notice are named after former players from the 2005-06 season, otherwise known as Year 1 "post lockout." With no further ado, we will start handing out the awards.
Let the hair pulling begin
The Peter Forsberg Frustration Award is handed out annually to the player who is deemed to have caused his owner to pull out the most hair follicles, root included, during the season. This award is named in honor of Forsberg's 2005-06 performance because his scoring started out at prolific levels and slowly dropped all season, but the frustration award can also be handed out for a whole list of other reasons. Basically, if the player caused you to curse his name yet continue to own him because you couldn't get proper trade value for him and dropping him just wasn't an option, he is likely a Forsberg candidate.
And the winner is Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche. While Jokinen's hot and cold streaks and Forsberg's anticlimactic return were frustrating, Stastny takes the cake. Through no direct fault of his own, Stastny went from being a top-30 candidate in fantasy to being waiver-wire fodder as the Avalanche self-destructed through injury and trade. With 43 points in 48 games before the All-Star break, Stastny has 12 points and a minus-9 in 23 games since.
Don't call it a comeback
The Mario Lemieux Don't Call It A Comeback Trophy is awarded to the forward who has been out of the spotlight for a while but makes a return to prominence in fantasy, helping his owners along the way. Lemieux came back after the lockout in 2005-06 with high hopes as the Pittsburgh Penguins now sported a young star named Sidney Crosby. Lemieux scored a respectable 22 points in 26 games before bowing out halfway through the season.
And the winner is Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks. Forsberg's comeback was nonexistent in the larger scheme, but Williams' return to 57 points was very impressive. Still, the return of the Finnish Flash to his best season since 2006-07 is definitely worth celebrating. Through staying healthy, clicking with Saku Koivu and benefiting from an improved power-play unit, Selanne is going to finish with more than 70 points this season and likely better than a point-per-game pace. Not bad for a 40-year-old, the last vestige of the Winnipeg Jets.
A multicategorical star is born
The Brendan Shanahan "I'm Good at Everything Plaque" is bestowed upon the forward who best contributes across all categories that apply in fantasy hockey. The ESPN standard league counts goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots, time on ice and power-play points. In 2005-06, Shanahan had 81 points, a plus-29, 105 PIMs, 289 shots on goal and 28 power-play points. Shanny truly contributed in all ways that season.
And the winner is Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks. This was a tough decision as Lucic makes a pretty good case with a much better plus/minus rating and more penalty minutes, but Perry's fantastic season allows his plus-5 to appear much bigger than it is. Perry will finish with better than 85 points, more than 100 PIMs, 25 power-play points and close to 280 shots on goal. Really, the neutral plus-5 is the only blemish on this report card.
Goons and defense
The Matthew Barnaby "I'm Mostly Good at One Thing" Plaque is the complementary award to the Shanahan. The Barnaby is handed out to a forward who contributes in only one fantasy category, but does so in such a way that he is worth an occasional roster spot. In 2005-06 Barnaby had 178 penalty minutes while contributing 28 points and a minus-11. This award does not have to go to a pugilist, but that is its most likely destination.
And the winner is Zenon Konopka, New York Islanders. While Nodl and Korpikoski both risked achieving the impressive feat of posting a higher plus/minus than their respective point totals, Konopka is the clear winner here. In the category of penalty minutes Konopka's 250 outpace everyone else by a wide margin. His careful use as a spot starter in a good fantasy lineup gave his owners a clear advantage this season.
The Sergei Fedorov Disappointment Award is handed out to a forward who has let down his fantasy owners the most each season. The player who receives the award is usually a former star whose decline came suddenly. In 2005-06, Fedorov didn't score 30 goals or 60 points for the first time in his career that an injury or strike wasn't to blame. It was the beginning of the end for the former star forward.
And the winner is Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. One season after breaking the century mark in points, It's going to take a major effort for Backstrom to avoid finishing with fewer than the 69 points he scored as a rookie. He'll also play fewer than 82 games for the first time in his four-year career and fall short of last season's lofty totals in every statistical category except for average time on ice. Unlike Fedorov, you can expect Backstrom to bounce back, but the bloom is off this particular rose for the time being.
The Jonathan Cheechoo Train of Honor singles out a fantasy forward who far exceeds all expectations placed on him that season. There are no rules as to how the success is achieved, whether the forward finally catches on, gets a promotion up the depth chart or has the best playmaker in the game traded to his line. In 2005-06 Cheechoo became the single best free-agent pickup of all time when Joe Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks and Cheechoo went on to lead the NHL in goals.
And the winner is Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto Maple Leafs. No one expected Grabovski to finish in the top 100 for the ESPN Player Rater, let alone the top 30. Entering his third season with the Maple Leafs, there was an outside chance he could land on Phil Kessel's line and benefit. But instead it was Kessel who was lucky to occasionally play with Grabovski. The centerman is trending toward 60 points, has a plus-13 on a subpar team and has contributed 10 goals on the power play. Williams' health was unexpected and Skinner even making the NHL was a surprise, but Grabovski dominated out of nowhere.
Learning the ropes
The Michel Ouellet Memorial Trophy is named after the only rookie forward I could be bothered to find from 2005-06 who is no longer in the NHL. The trophy goes to the rookie of the year for fantasy purposes. That doesn't necessarily mean the top-scoring rookie will receive the award. Ouellet finished 25th in scoring in 2005-06 in what might be the best rookie class the NHL has ever had -- in large part because it was a double cohort from the 2004 and 2005 drafts, but also because of the quality of players available: Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Zach Parise and Tomas Plekanec all graduated that year.
And the winners are Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks and Michael Grabner, New York Islanders. This virtual dead heat cannot be broken. An honorable mention to Skinner, who despite leading the rookie class in scoring lags behind the other two for overall fantasy value. Grabner and Couture both shattered the 30-goal mark and while Grabner has the slight edge in goals, Couture's plus-19 beats Grabner's plus-16. Only five points separate the players and with six games left to play each, this is too close to call.
The big one
The Jaromir Jagr MVP Award is the equivalent of the Hart Trophy in the NHL. This goes to the most valuable forward for all fantasy owners regardless of draft status. You might think this would automatically be based on the ESPN Player Rater, but consistency counts for something too. Jagr scored 123 points in the 2005-06 season and received a Hart Trophy nomination.
And the winner is Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks. Perry may be making a last-minute push and Stamkos would win the award stretched over the past two seasons, but Sedin is the clear victor. What is so enlightening about Daniel's dominance is not his third-best in the NHL 40 goals (we know he is the scoring Sedin), what is surprising is that he ranks third in the league in assists with 56. Throw in the above-average shots on goal and the league-leading 39 power-play points and you have easily the best fantasy forward of the season.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.
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